Many things beyond my comprehension go into the making of an Arabic pop mega star. If you were to ask me how Amr Diab, a kid from the little town of Port Said became the highest selling Middle Eastern artist and apparently “the godfather of Mediterranean music” my only answer would be human sacrifice, lots of it. But since I can’t uncover truths of the rugged, tortuous, exhausting path to fame that makes a pop star (I still have my money on voodoo though), I’ll dive into one of its most famous and defining milestones.
The milestone I’m addressing is when an Arabic singer collaborates with another foreign icon that is vaguely known to the Arabic audience, or perhaps not at all. Think Amr Diab and Greek pop star Angela Dimitriou, or shaabi icon Hakeem and James Brown; what could they possibly have in common that would justify this musical mismatch? A common obsession for puff pastry? A shared communist ideology? Debts owed to dangerous loan sharks? The answer could forever elude us.
1. Amr Moustafa feat. Raquel Camins - "Awel Maoul [Como Decir]" (2008)
Now before we discuss Amr Diab’s own contribution to the list, we must first shed light on a man who contributed so much to Diab’s career. A wise man told me that “behind every man with a seasonal hairstyle is a balding man with a bandana.” The balding man with the bandana here is clearly Amr Moustafa, who wrote and produced hits for his idol Amr Diab between 1999 and 2011, until a financial beef between them placed a seven year hiatus on their collaborations. In a bold attempt to follow in the footsteps of his role model back in ’08, Amr brought on a Spanish singer by the name of Raquel Camins for a sexy summer collab that kind of fell flat on its face, as Moustafa ended up releasing a fully Arabic version anyway.
But Ms. Raquel remains a big question mark, as she doesn’t exist on a single social media or streaming platform - there is not even a Wikipedia or Discogs page to her name. Maybe she was never a famous Spanish singer to begin with, or was but fell to her demise after her song with Moustafa. Either way it’s still proof he has the power to make or break (mostly break) someone’s career with one song. Also, don’t miss the model showering while fully clothed and wearing headphones towards the end of the video: the look on her face will have you wondering if it’s fresh water or Moustafa’s bandana juice.
2. Elissa feat. Gerrard Ferrer - "Baddy Doub" (1999)
Love or hate Elissa, you have to credit her with two things. The first is being the last of the Lebanese divas who can actually sing. The second is her sheer talent for picking her plastic surgeons - do you see how well her nose job is holding up? Money well spent in my opinion. One can’t entirely justify her song ‘Baddy Doub’ though, I mean I kind of get where she’s coming from - every Arab loves Bamboleo by the Gipsy Kings whether they even know about rumba flamenca or not. But since she couldn’t get her hands on the French collective or even one member, she found the next best thing, in the form of a lesser known rumba singer/guitarist by the name of Gerrard Ferrer who sounds EXACTLY like Nicolas Reyes from the Gipsy Kings. Elissa also appears draped in bedsheets for the entirety of the video, which wouldn’t mark the last time she reaches for that ‘ready for bedtime’ aesthetic as she would appear in pajamas alongside Ragheb Alama again the following year in the smash hit "Betgheeb".
3. Hakim feat. Olga Tañón - "Ahh Ya Albi" (2002)
Hakim is all about winning, when he set out to be a musician he didn’t want to be another shaabi singer, he wanted to be THE shaabi singer. After he seized control of the genre and became its undisputed king in 2002, he set out for world domination. Now if the king of shaabi was out to collaborate with a foreign singer, it wasn’t going to be no rookie. Hakim decided on Puerto Rican Grammy and Latin Grammy award winner Olga Tañón, who though she might be big where she comes from, Egyptians still have no clue about her until this day. No literally, 0.00000127% of the Egyptian population can even name her. That percentile is made up of myself (because I just googled her), Hakim, Hakim’s posse and anyone reading this right now. The diabolical plan for shaabi world domination will see yet another chapter on this list.
4. Tamer Hosny feat. Shaggy - "Smile" (2012)
Contrary to what your brain might lead to you believe but ”we share love and joy, love and joy and happiness” wasn’t a song on the fourth season of Barney & Friends, but actually the main hook on "Smile" a collaboration between Egypt’s furriest pop star and Mr. Boombastic himself. Now Shaggy released "Boombastic" in 1995, and due to slow internet speeds at the time it reached Egypt at around 2006. By 2012, Tamer Hosny decided capitalize on the momentum a full six years later and hit up then 43 year old Shaggy for a song. Judging by the video, the Jamaican star was offered too much money to refuse, but not enough to be arsed with lip-syncing his verses properly.
5. Amr Diab feat. Angela Dimitriou - "Bahebak Aktar" (1999)
Now both Amr and Angela claim that they’re famous in each other’s respective countries. But the only other Dimitriou song Egyptians are familiar with is called ‘Margarites’ and that’s because it’s been used in countless TV ads. As for Diab, he still lands gigs in Mykonos every summer. Now I’ll admit the song was a hit here, but it just still doesn’t fall easily on my ears. Greek has a hard time blending with Arabic, and Angela jumping in from the background every four seconds to exclaim ‘aha, aha’ makes for listening experience that goes beyond musical cheeseballs.
6. Hakim feat. James Brown - "Leila [Feeling Good Tonight]" (2004)
Hakim’s collaboration with Olga didn’t quite quench his thirst for a shot at world fame. After setting out to invade Puerto Rico he made a move towards mainland America. In order to dominate America he must acquire the help of someone iconic, someone loved nation wide from Harlem, New York to Barnwell, South Carolina, we’re talking about no other than “The Godfather of Soul” and the sex machine himself, James Joseph Brown.
Now this actually qualifies as one of the most relatable collaborations on this list, pretty much half the Egyptian population had “I Feel Good” as their ringtone on their Nokia 6600’s by the mid 2000’s. It was a smart move by Hakim and his entourage to use the momentum in their favour. Now the collab itself is a bit of a mess; Brown’s verses sound like a nursery rhyme and every couple of sections he’d throw in “I Feel Good” in an attempt of reminding people of who he is. The video though is quite engaging, capturing a block party of some sort taking place on what seems like James’ front lawn. It’s particularly fun to see Hakim, your average Egyptian guy from Minya play some lawn bowling or engage in a game of dominoes with Brown's posse. On the same album Hakim would add another track that “features Stevie Wonder” but in fact all Stevie does is pretend he’s on the phone with Hakim and wishes Egypt great things in the beginning of the song.
7. Tamer Hosny feat. Snoop Dogg - "Si ElSayed" (2013)
Tamer Hosny’s string of atrocities continued in 2013, because he just couldn’t settle for one horrendous song, but had to ruin Snoop for us too. "Si ElSayed" is a song about how men should ‘wear the pants’ in a relationship coupled with a long list of statements declaring how women should step aside. Overall, it’s an astounding display of Tamer’s fragile masculinity and one kind of feels sorry for Snoop getting dragged into this backwards concept.
8. Melissa feat. Dr. Alban - "Somebody Call My Name" [Habibi] (2009)
I didn’t know anything about this song or the people in it until a colleague pointed it out to me while I was compiling the list. Now all I know is that it’s agonizingly, excruciatingly painful to listen to, like it’s an actual hazard to your mental health if you watch it enough times. Listen at your own risk.